IndyCar 2016 driver review: Gabby Chaves

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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Gabby Chaves made a handful of starts this year in Dale Coyne Racing’s second car, rather

Gabby Chaves, No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish
  • 2016: 22nd Place (7 Starts), Best Finish 12th, Best Start 15th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 19.7 Avg. Start, 16.0 Avg. Finish

Parallels between Gabby Chaves and Sage Karam have existed for the last four years, since both were in Star Mazda in 2012. Karam beat Chaves to the 2013 Indy Lights title, but had to wait a year before he got his foot in the door fully into IndyCar in 2015 – the same year Chaves did as a result of winning the 2014 Indy Lights crown. Karam’s rookie season was a character-building one for himself while Chaves was arguably one of the top-10 drivers in 2015, consistently overachieving on a fraction of the budget in a one-car team.

With that as background, Chaves’ 2016 campaign was perhaps even more difficult to comprehend. Because if Karam’s 2015 was character building, Chaves’ 2016 was character, secondary character and external family-building by comparison.

All but promised another season with Bryan Herta, Chaves was the team’s lone casualty when a proposed sponsor reneged on its potential commitment, only weeks before St. Petersburg. Herta had to scramble to keep his team afloat and did so courtesy of an eleventh-hour partnership with Michael Andretti, and Alexander Rossi joining up as a surprise replacement driver.

Chaves, meanwhile, did what he could to keep his face out there. He was picked to test with Schmidt Peterson when Mikhail Aleshin had a visa delay at Phoenix. He attended the first four race weekends of the year in hopes of assembling an Indianapolis 500 ride, but then had a second sponsor bail on him in nearly as many months when a partner he’d brought to Schmidt instead left him on the sidelines.

There were many happy faces in the paddock when Chaves was named to the second Coyne seat just before the month of May began to replace Luca Filippi. His presence would in theory, aid the team’s four-car program with Conor Daly, Pippa Mann and the now late Bryan Clauson.

Chaves’ pace at the Speedway was impressive but the Indianapolis 500 for him didn’t go to plan. Adding insult to injury and pouring salt in the open wound, there was Rossi, in what had been Chaves’ earmarked car, using a Herta strategy call to perfect to win the race on fuel mileage. It had to be a bitter blow.

The rest of Chaves’ starts, there was little magic to be found. Penalties seemed to find his No. 19 Honda at every race, and a 12th place at the first Detroit race was his best result. A brief comeback at the completed Texas race also didn’t bear fruit despite being well positioned with a good amount of downforce.

On paper, Chaves and Filippi’s years in the No. 19 car were equally underwhelming, and both were made to look worse when 19-year-old RC Enerson completed his star turn in three late-season starts.

Chaves is still only 23, has an Indy Lights title and both IndyCar series and Indianapolis 500 rookie-of-the-year honors on his resume. He’s damn talented, but hopefully this tough 2016 campaign won’t have left a black mark on him or his confidence.